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Climate Change Minister Must Make Urgent Health Appointment

JOINT MEDIA STATEMENT – OraTaiao, RACP, NZMA, Health Promotion Forum of NZ

Health organisations have written to Climate Change Minister James Shaw asking him to appoint a public health expert to the Climate Change Commission to ensure Aotearoa improves health as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“Reducing our greenhouse gas emissions could be one of the most important public health interventions of our time, but whether or not we realise the health benefits will depend on what kind of actions we take. The Climate Change Commission is preparing essential advice for the Government on how Aotearoa reduces its emissions but they aren’t looking at health evidence or working with public health experts. We are calling on Minister Shaw and on the Climate Commission to recognise that human health is a fundamental human right, and asking that they work directly with health experts as a matter of urgency,” said Dr Dermot Coffey, Co-convenor, OraTaiao: NZ Climate & Health Council.

Twelve health professional organisations, including OraTaiao, Royal Australasian College of Physicians, Health Promotion Forum of New Zealand, and NZ Medical Association wrote to Climate Change Minister James Shaw on Wednesday 17 March asking that a public health expert be appointed to the board of the Commission and that a health working group is formed as a matter of urgency. So far, the Commission has worked closely with industry groups and some experts but has not drawn on the extensive evidence or expertise around health and climate change.

“Health is afforded a cursory mention in the Commission’s first draft advice to the Government, but we know from the evidence and modelling studies that the health impacts of climate change will be varied and unrelenting” said Dr George Laking, a medical oncologist and Aotearoa NZ President of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, “With public health expertise at the heart of climate change advice to government, health equity is much more likely to be the norm for all. This means healthy housing, good work and whānau wellbeing can be outcomes of mitigation actions to support our people, our built environment and our natural environment”.

“Human wellbeing is environmental wellbeing. Therefore, we need public health as a crucial part of the policy-making process,” said Sione Tu’itahi, Executive Director, Health Promotion Forum of New Zealand.

NZ Medical Association Chair, Dr Kate Baddock said, “Tackling climate change gives us a real opportunity to address existing disparities in health and contribute to equity of health outcomes. For example, a shift to active and public transport, a diet with less red meat and animal fat, and improved housing energy efficiency will reduce greenhouse gas emissions but will also reduce type 2 diabetes, heart disease, road traffic accidents, cancer and respiratory disease. To ensure that these health gains are maximised, we need expertise in public health and health equity when formulating climate policies.”

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